Local High School Sports Outfitter Getting Bigfooted by Nike

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For 17 years B-Bad Sportswear of Houston has been providing uniforms for teams in the Houston school district, employing 22 workers, hustling to replace torn or missing jerseys before games, proud to have made the shirts and shorts worn by state champions.

At one time, boss Gerald Taylor tells Hair Balls, his company may have done maybe 80 percent or so of the uniforms in the district. Nowadays, he says, it's more like two percent.

Why? The big guns have rolled in. Nike is now king.

Late last year the UIL, which governs Texas high schools sports, struck a deal with Nike to be the "outfitter of choice" for the state's schools, the first-ever statewide agreement for the company.

As such, Nike offers a discount, sponsors events, and has an in at every school in Texas.

And Gerald Taylor and B-Bad have very quickly found themselves on the outs.

"When you tell us it's fair play, and then you undercut us -- with our tax dollars -- with a company that gets everything from overseas it's not right," he says.

Individual schools are still free to buy uniforms from whomever they choose, but Taylor says Nike sales staff can sweeten deals by offering extras and lower prices.

(HISD spokesman Norm Uhl says the district makes some purchases districtwide through bids, but some schools can buy on their own.)

And, after all, getting the best deal for the tax dollars is probably what most HISD taxpayers care about. Taylor, though, says it's killing local businesses who also support the community, go the extra mile with teams, and provide jobs.

And, he says, it's not so much the price difference that's making it hard to convince teams to use him -- it's the high-priced power of the Nike brand, reinforced constantly through the hippest commercials on TV, starring the players that kids worship and want to emulate.

"The mindset of the youth in the country now, especially the minority youth, is 'If it's not Nike, it's not good,'" says Taylor, who's black.

Unfortunately for Taylor, his situation isn't unique or likely to be rectified anytime soon, with the global economy and all.

But he wants to get the message out. "What we're facing is a demise of small businesses," he says. "The president says the backbone of this country is small business. Now how can you be the backbone when you're undercutting us at every turn?"

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